Tales are told throughout the realms.
Tales of shepherds and princes, princesses and bandits, beasts and beauties, queens and thieves and of good and evil and redemption and forgiveness and, most of all, hope. They are all great tales and Henry Mills collects them all, for no two loves are the same nor are any two lives.
It isn’t until he acquired his own vessel, a ship with an enchanted sail (which one father finds suspicious), and a little family of his own that he hears this one.
Historical reenactors are a strange group, to Henry at least, but one summer he and his lend their ship to a Land without Magic group and their storyteller spins the tale of the White Sorceress of the Bottomless Sea.
For those looking for help, for magic, for a way to pull the veil aside and see the full breadth of the universe – there is a world. An enchanted land, a Magic Kingdom if you will, filled with wondrous and strange stories. There you can find The Dark One, who balances the scales of magic and the small mouse who brought the powerful wizard to his knees. Tales of a forest rebel who swept the land of its greatest evil, filling the witch’s heart with love. A land ruled by a Queen and King the embodiment of justice and mercy and love who brought their people out of the darkness as well as produced a number of notorious offspring. It is a land of legendary vessels – submarines and airships where enchanted ships sail the sea and sky effortlessly.
It is the land of the White Sorceress who built her home in the middle of the Bottomless Sea, unafraid of the sea creatures in its depths or the sea gods who ruled the waves. There she lived for hundreds of years, helping every hapless wanderer that washed up on her shores. It is said there she waited for her true love to return and each passing year with his absence the sea grew more turbulent, the sky filled with storms and wanderers in search of her magical benevolence sank into its cold embrace…
“That’s not how the story goes.” Ellie pursed her lips and scowled out at her brother from under her father’s brows.
“Well that’s how they were telling it. What did you expect?”
“Accuracy would be nice.” Addie looked up from her book and tossed her blond hair over her shoulder. “How do other realms get things so bloody wrong?”
“It’s Peter Pan all over again.”
Addie nodded at her sister. “I blame Walt Disney.”
Henry lost it at the identical angry expressions on his sisters’ faces. He once thought identical twins meant that they would look the same but have different, opposing personalities, like any sensible person raised on TV sitcoms. One was meant to be an athletic tomboy and the other a stylish bookworm. Instead, Adelaide and Eleanor were different but complimentary mixes of their parents that were inseparable.
Emma’s shout echoed across the island. “Kids, move it!”
Addie and Ellie looked at each other, staring and Henry mentally counted down. One. Two and off they went, racing each other to the clearing where everyone, literally every living member of their family, waited.
Henry sighed and picked up his son from his basket. “Times up Danny boy.” When he got to the clearing he found, as usual, Snow White in charge of everything. Henry handed off Danny to Ella and received a kiss on the cheek.
“What did you think would happen when you brought back a camera?” Killian came up from behind him and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Well, Dad.” Henry shook his head. “Not this.”
“Come on kid. You’re here and there was no way out of a full family reunion even without the whole picture taking thing.” Emma walked over to join them and slung an arm around her husband’s neck, leaning up to kiss him.
“Ew. Gross. Stop.”
Emma pulled back and spoke without looking away from her husband. “Finnegan Swan-Jones, your grandmother needs you.”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Finn, are your arguing with your mother?” Killian’s brow raised with his question but he didn’t look away from his wife.
“Not arguing, simply disagreeing. Strongly.”
“So noted, boy.” Killian wrapped both arms around Emma and waggled his eye brows at both his sons. “Now go see if you can help your grandmother so I can make out with your mother.”
Henry rolled his eyes and draped an arm around Finn’s shoulders. “And now I second Finn. Ew, gross, stop.”
“Ah, children.” Killian sighed as he dropped a kiss behind Emma’s ear.
“You’re the one who wanted more.” Emma hummed happily and leaned into him.
Killian rested his head against hers. “A terrible decision really.”
“Seriously.” Ellie complained with her hands on her hips.
Addie sighed. “Why are you surprised? It’s like all they do.”
Henry switched his hold on Finn to a headlock and nodded at his sisters. “Come on guys, let’s go see where Grandma wants us to stand.”
Killian Jones ignored his children scurrying off to be placed wherever their grandmother deemed appropriate for the ridiculous family portrait in order to continue kissing his wife. When he felt her teeth against his lower lip, he gave in and leaned down to wrap an arm around her hips and lift her up.
They didn’t make it one step.
“Where do you think you’re going Captain Guyliner?”
Henry settled in front with Ella and Danny and Lucy on a blanket as directed while Snow White instructed Anton on how to take a picture with the digital camera. Charming sat behind them and had roped Gideon into convincing Neal and his brothers to, well, sit still. Rumple and Belle occupied their regular tea table sharing it with Neal and Ariadne. Milah and Nemo and Lumiere stood at the back, looking anxious to take off as soon as possible.
Henry grinned at Gideon and tipped his head toward the Sherwood Forest crowd and Gideon rolled his eyes as they heard Sweet Robin let out another whoop. She then withered under Esmeralda’s glare who quickly pulled all her younger siblings into line.
Regina marched across the clearing and gave Esme a pleased smile and placed her arm around the girl’s shoulders.
“Now Killian, just go there.” Snow pointed at a spot where Addie and Ellie wrestled with Finn. “Adelaide. Eleanor.”
“He started it.” The twins replied in unison.
“I don’t care. This is for the family picture.”
The two girls straightened up, finger combed each other’s hair and more importantly, stopped trying to kill their little brother. “Yes, Grandma Snow.” The girls responded sweetly in unison and three Swan-Jones kids plastered similar innocent smiles on their faces for their grandmother.
Snow shot a frowning look at Emma who shrugged. That was as good as it gets with the heathen three. Henry grinned over his shoulder at his siblings’ antics.
Addie nudged her sister then winked at him. “You need to finish the story Henry.”
“I mean, it’s totally wrong.” Ellie’s head tilted in consideration.
Finn’s head swiveled around, trying to pin down his sisters. “What story?”
Addie grinned at Finn and leaned in close. “The great story of the Magic Kingdom of the Enchanted Forest.”
“Of the Dark One and the Evil Queen,” Ellie added.
Addie spread her arms wide. “Of the mightiest mouse and Robin Hood, Snow White and,”
“Prince Charming.” Ellie fluttered her eyelashes at her frowning little brother as she clasped her hands to her heart.
Addie placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder and laid the other over her forehead in shock. “And most of all, the story of the White Sorceress of the Bottomless Sea and her faithless pirate lover.”
“Are you bloody well kidding me?” Killian growled at the children. “Henry where did you pick up this ridiculously drivel?”
“Um, well.” Henry turned away from his overly dramatic sisters and stuttered over an explanation. “It was, uh, Land without Magic kind of…”
“It’s Peter Pan all over again.” Killian let go of his wife and pointed a finger in Henry’s direction. “I forbid any more of those blasted tales you tell from that bloody awful world.”
“Finnegan!” Both his parents shouted.
“Stop all of you,” Snow White commanded from her seat on Charming’s knee. “Punish Finn and Henry later. Smile now.”
“But milady, my own children…”
“Stow it pirate and smile.” Snow ground out the words from behind her smile.
At which point, everyone quickly turned their attention to Anton and the camera and smiled.
Henry traced a finger down his baby boy’s forehead one last time to make sure Danny was asleep. As he walked away from the crib, he picked up the toys Lucy had left out around the family’s bedroom. His mom had suggested asking the dwarves to come out and redesign his tower so they could have more space and privacy but neither Henry nor Ella nor Lucy wanted it.
Henry double checked the conch shell set at the center of the mobile hanging over the crib for the hundredth time and silently walked away so the baby would sleep. Everything was in place and they’d be able to hear him if he awakened.
Down in the living room, Lucy nestled against Ella who closed the picture book on her lap and glanced up at her husband as he came down the stairs.
“She’s out too.”
Henry leaned down to place a kiss on his daughter’s forehead. “I can get another shell if you want to come with me.”
“Mmmmm, no.” Ella shrugged gently, stroking Lucy’s hair with one hand. “This is your time with your parents and the heathens.”
“That almost sounds like you don’t like them.”
“I adore the children.” She grimaced and looked up at him. “I’m still very intimidated by your mother.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “You practically shove me to the side to hang out with Regina.”
“True, it’s just Emma, Emma is, well, everything and the savior and…”
“And my grandmother is Snow White.” He grinned at her. “My grandfather’s Prince Charming.”
“I thought that was a line when I first met you.”
“A good line. You like Grandma, so what is it with Emma?”
“Fine.” She crossed her arms and lifted one shoulder. “It’s like she glows or something. I don’t know, everything she’s been through and she’s still this beacon of light or hope or something.”
“That makes no sense.”
“How would you feel if you met Luke Skywalker? Or Hans Holo?”
“Solo. Hans Solo. Okay, so you have some epic hero worship but you’ve known her a while now.”
Ella nodded. “Deal with the fact it’s going to take more time for me to adjust. Plus, I know you. You need time with just you guys.” He looked away and opened his mouth to say something but she held up one hand. “It’s the same with Regina and with your father. You and her or you and Neal walk away from the crowd for some togetherness.”
“Well it’s not just me and Emma, Killian and the devil twins and Finn….”
“Yeah, I know and still, you need time with just them, all of just them.” She smirked at him.
Henry leaned down and squinted at her. Ella let one brow lift up and returned his stare.
“Fine,” he mumbled and pressed a kiss to her smirking lips. “I will be back.”
Ella leaned up and caught his face between her hands and kissed him back. “I will be waiting Henry Mills.”
Emma shook the pot she held over the heat of the stove one last time. A few kernels tinged against the side but it was done. Removing the lid she turned the contents over into the waiting bowl. It was the last batch of popcorn. Behind her she could hear her girls tinkering with their surprise while Finn and Killian argued quietly about cheating and good form. For all she knew they could be playing chess or dice or three card monty.
Teaching Finn the con was risky but she insisted he follow just two rules. Never play against anyone but his father and never, ever, ever play in front of Gold.
“Hey guys, what are we putting on the popcorn tonight?” She called out without turning around as she lightly buttered and salted her and Killian’s bowl.
“Chocolate and salted, too.”
“Caramel then the cheesy powder stuff, mum.” A chair scrapped across the floor and Finn appeared at Emma’s side. “Henry called it Chicago style.”
Emma put a hand on her stomach as it found their requests positively revolting. She looked down at her youngest who smiled so sweetly up at her with his father’s face. “Kid, you want to take over here?”
Finn nodded happily so Emma grabbed the bowl she made for herself, and Killian, and left him to it. He was the only family member who had any interest in cooking. He pulled out the step stool Geppetto had made for him and fixed the bowls to his sister’s specifications.
At the game table Killian stared at the chess board. His hand kept lightly touching the tops of different pieces, tilting them to the side a bit before letting them fall back.
Emma leaned her hip against the table and pushed the bowl into his arms. “Has my son beaten you this time?”
“Our son. No,” he replied. “But if I’m not careful, he may in five moves.”
“Henry should be here soon, come on.” She pulled his hand away from the latest chess piece.
Killian let Emma draw him away to the couch. “Not a one of you heathens is to touch that chess board.”
“Yes, Papa.” The children responded together.
“I mean it.” Killian glared intently at them, swiveling his head to encompass Finn fussing in the kitchen area. “I have memorized the board and we are not having another incident like last time.”
A door opened and Henry watched as Killian nodded his head. “What happened last time?”
Addie crossed the room to Henry, her brows raised in question to which he responded by holding out a bag. “We don’t talk about last time Henry,” she said to him slyly, her lips twitching as she grabbed the bag out of his hands. “Much like how Grandpa doesn’t ever explain why he never accepts the dwarves’ invitation to the tavern.”
“It just isn’t done Henry.” Ellie added from her spot on the floor.
“Okay then.” Henry dropped down on the other side of Emma on the couch. “Clearly it’s better if I never know.”
Addie glared at her brother. “One day, oh yes, one day one of you will crack and I will find out what happened with Grandpa.”
For once it was Killian, Emma and Henry who responded as one. “Nope.”
“Come on Addie.” Ellie waggled her eye brows at her sister. “Let’s do this.”
“Should I ask?”
“Probably not,” Killian answered and put his arm around Emma’s shoulders. “But I thought you knew?”
“More like a vague ideal.”
Emma grimaced as Finn presented a bowl of popcorn mixed with milk duds to Henry with a flourish. He leaned over a bit to check out the bowl she shared with Killian and both his brows shot up.
“That popcorn’s looking a little plain there, Mom.”
“It’s yours that’s looking a little bleh to me.”
Henry shot a glance at Killian who quickly looked elsewhere hiding his own expression. “Seriously?”
Emma ignored him and watched her girls hang a large white table cloth across the fireplace. Addie and Ellie had been fiddling in their playroom for a while now and asking frequently for Henry to send them one thing or another. Today was a super secret little family anniversary and they all exchanged gifts.
It was the day Killian and Emma had returned their rings to their fingers and chosen each other, again. Sighing, Emma leaned her head on Killian’s shoulder and looped an arm around Henry. Addie glared at Finn and pointed to a spot on the side where he promptly set down the girls’ popcorn. When he had his own he wiggled into the space next to Henry.
“Alright my loves, on with your show.” Killian leaned over to speak around Emma. “Unless you’d like to go first?”
Henry coughed as every head turned to him. “The camera was my gift but I was showing it to Grandma and well….”
Finn patted his brother on the shoulder. “We understand.”
Emma choked on a laugh. “It’s okay, distracting your grandmother was a lovely gift.”
“And just what” – he dragged Finn onto his lap and angled them into the corner – “did I distract her from?”
Emma ignored him and waved a hand at Ellie. “Come on baby, give your brother his gift.”
Eleanor Swan-Jones scurried away to a corner of the room and returned with a package wrapped in brown paper. She rocked up and down on the tips of her toes as she glanced at her mother. Emma nodded in encouragement. Ellie rested back on her heels, closed her eyes and seemed to exhale forever.
“It’s time,” she whispered then opened the wide green eyes that she shared with her sister. Her gaze was unfocused as it looked off into the unknown future. “It is time for this to be yours again.”
Addie stood at her sister’s side and pulled the package from Ellie’s hands which went limp at her side. Dropping it into Henry’s lap, she grasped her sister’s hand. “Well open it old man.”
“Sassy brat.” The heavy package was a familiar weight in his lap. “Are you sure?”
“A story is nothing until it is told. An author can write what they will, it is the reader who brings it to life and makes the story immortal.” Eleanor’s voice as distant as her gaze. “And it must be passed on and on and on…”
Killian’s thumb stroked the back of Emma’s hand. She looked up to catch the worry in his eyes. Ellie had some form of the sight and it was unsettling when it took her away from them.
“Baby?” Emma asked gently and drew Ellie’s gaze to her.
Her younger daughter blinked and slowly smiled at her mother. “Hey Mom.” Ellie promptly turned to her twin. “Did I fully explain it?”
“Nope,” Addie answered, shaking her head sadly with a sigh. “Just weird cryptic zoning out. If only you could act like that on purpose. The fun…”
“Adelaide Swan-Jones.” Killian’s voice was gruff.
Emma turned to catch his expression and it was as she thought. He barely managed to hide the glee he got from the potential antics of his children. She rolled her eyes. “Ellie do you want to explain?”
“You know it’d be nice if you could act surprised at what’s inside, Henry.” Ellie swung her hand, still held in her sister’s back and forth. “It’s just a knowing, no prophecy.”
“Are we still glad the fairies burned the books of prophecies?”
“Considering it’s impossible to get them right?” Emma nudged Henry’s leg with hers. “Yeah.”
“Beside we have me,” Ellie piped up again. “Kind of. Anyways, no prophecy just a feeling. And anyways, we already know it by heart.”
“You read it to us every chance you got,” Finn groaned loudly.
Addie sighed in pain as well. “Now you can torture your own kids. Poor Lucy and Danny.”
Emma watched her eldest son slid his hand over the still wrapped package reverentially.
“Thank you.” Hugging the book close Henry turned to the girls. “Is it show time?”
Addie and Ellie sprang into action. Emma watched as Addie directed her sister in setting up what looked like a projector and DVD player. From the moment the twins were born, Adelaide’s fascination and love of the thunderstorms and the lightning grew. Eventually Henry fueled her curiosity with all sorts of gadgets and snap circuits and books then more advanced electrical kits. She and Killian had many discussions about Addie’s interests. Someday, they knew another of their children would venture beyond this realm to find their way.
Emma’s thoughts of that specific future were cut short by her husband whose hold tightened on her as he wiggled about on the couch looking fit to burst.
“Wait.” The pirate’s voice cracked and stopped the girls in their tracks. “We have, um something to…” He became anxious and looked to Emma.
She glared in response.
Killian glared back. “We have something to tell you all.”
Emma sighed and looked at Addie and Ellie then Henry and Finn. “This is so ridiculous.”
Henry started choking on his laughter.
Emma kicked her laughing son and elbowed her husband in the side. “This is your fault, pirate.”
“Pretty sure, it took both of us.”
“Ewwwwwww.” Addie’s face twisted into a sneer. “That’s just not something we need to know. God, I thought you two were adults.”
Ellie giggled at her sister and proceeded to launch herself into her father’s arms. “Do we get to name them?”
Finn’s confused face looked from one to the other to the other. “I don’t get it.”
Emma glared her other children into silence then moved to hold both of Finn’s hands. “Kid, I’m pregnant, again.” She kept her eyes on his. “So. Uh, in about six months or so, you’ll have a new baby brother or sister.”
The boy, Killian’s mini-me down to the thick black brows furrowed solemnly, nodded slowly and didn’t look away when he leaned closer to whisper. “Not twins though? Please.”
“Hey! I heard that.”
“Come on Addie,” he whined. “You know you agree with me.”
“Not twins.” Emma nodded. “And I know I agree with you.”
Everyone ignored the girls who were smiling at each other. There were plans and schemes forming in their heads but Emma trusted her girls whose hearts were always in the right place. She sat back and opened her arms to Finn who set his popcorn aside to crawl into his mother’s lap. Henry grabbed the bowls and settled closer to her side as well.
It was when her Addie slid to the floor and sat back against her father’s leg that Emma finally relaxed. One last thing to do. She turned her head and there he was waiting, his lips puckered. One not so quick kiss from her husband later, Emma was fully settled with her little family around her.
“Time for the show.” Addie flicked buttons on a remote control.
Emma looked down when Henry lowered his head on her shoulder. Her eyes tearing, again, her kid was just so big, grown with kids of his own and the damn hormones were back. He reached out a hand to the package next to him. She leaned her head on his.
“What is it kid?” She whispered.
“Maybe you need this back?”
Her head rolled back and forth on top of his in a no. “You know why I asked them about handing that over to you?”
Henry shook his head gently.
“The heathens wanted to see how much they remembered.” She wrinkled her nose. “And they rewrote it, with illustrations. So we have that and you get the original.”
“They nailed it didn’t they?”
“Yeah but don’t tell them I said that.” She shrugged slightly. “The fact is, they spent many, many years and every moment they could making their older brother read it to them. So they decided it was important that their niece and nephew get the same experience.”
Henry tilted his head to smile at her. “Your children are frightening.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Yes. Every single one of you.”
“Silence, please.” Addie called over her shoulder as an old but familiar image filled the screen, making five heads snap around to look at Killian. “This is for you, Papa.”
“Bloody hell,” he whispered hoarsely, disgust dripping down his face. “Peter bloody Pan. Fucking Disney.”
“Papa!” Addie held a hand to her heart in shock but ruined it by giggling.
“Such language.” Ellie shook her head sadly while her body shook with glee.
“You do remember you’re the “adult” here.” Finn admonished with air quotes.
Emma smiled over at Henry as her heathen children broke into uproarious laughter but he was once again focused on his gift. He pulled the paper away to revel the cover. The beginning of this very moment, the start of their little family that grew so much bigger than she had ever imagined was right there, under her kid’s finger as he traced the words embossed on the cover.
“Once upon a time…” Henry said quietly.
And the makeshift screen paused on London in the moonlight. Emma didn’t have to turn her head, she settled further into her husband’s side with her youngest son wrapped in her arms as three heads swung around to look at their brother, two light and one dark. Instead she looked to Killian, watching his slow smile bloom.
Ellie leaned out of his arms a bit. “Go on.”
Finn turned to Henry, nudging him with his foot. “We can save the movie for Lucy and Danny and Ella and…well you know, everyone’s going to want to watch it.”
Emma bit her lip to not laugh at the dawning horror on her husband’s face.
Addie reached out to pat him in comfort. “Don’t worry, we made Henry get the whole Disney collection, Papa. Everyone gets to be mortified.”
Henry pulled the rest of the paper off his first and favorite storybook and glanced from one sister to the other to Finn with a single raised brow.
Without thought, well, Emma assumed it was without thought as the second Henry raised the silent question all three nodded, speaking together.
“Tell us the story Henry.”
Henry began again. “Once upon a time…”